Special Markings : NATO Tiger Meet 2008 - Ocean Tiger
Every year one of the NATO Tiger squadrons organizes the NATO Tiger Meet. The 11 Flottille of the French Navy hosted 'Ocean Tiger' in June 2008. Ramon van Opdorp attended the media day on Friday as well as the public air show on Sunday to deliver this report.
Ocean Tiger 2008 - Landivisiau, France
Last year’s NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) codename ‘Arctic Tiger’ at Ørland MAS, Norway, was a huge success (see also our NTM 2007 report). With great photo opportunities, absolutely great weather, just a small group of photographers and a very relaxed and professional atmosphere. This year’s Tiger Meet was actually first planned to take place at Lechfeld, in the South of Germany, but this plan was cancelled because of the high workload of Lechfeld's Tornado community due to operational commitments and training of new aircrew. Stepping up to the plate, the French Flottille 11F requested if they could organise this Tiger Meet. This year would be the only opportunity for them to host the Tiger Meet due to the fact the 11 Flottille is normally a carrier based wing on French Navy’s sole nuclear aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle. The carrier was planned to be out of service for almost a year, undergoing maintenance in dry-dock. This provided the needed timeframe to plan and host this year’s NATO Tiger Meet at the Flottille’s land-based home in Landivisiau.
This year’s meeting was appropriately codenamed ‘Ocean Tiger’ and started on the 22nd of June and ended with a public air show on Sunday 29th. Every NATO(-associated) squadron with a tiger as their squadron’s symbolic creature or member of the NATO Tiger Association is invited. The tiger in the squadron crest stands symbol of strength, speed and hunting prowess, which are of course necessary properties in every specific role carried out by the member squadrons. When viewing the photographs in this report it all looks like fun and games with all those colourful aircraft, fortunately that is the case most of the time. However the Tiger Meets are combined with a large full-scale live training exercise that is setup differently each year, depending on the meeting’s location.
For this year, almost all tiger squadrons showed interest in participating in the Ocean Tiger Exercise and thus many were present. For the first time participating in the Tiger Meet was the Czech Air Force’s 211.lt from Cáslav airbase, bringing four of its SAAB JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters it introduced a completely new aircraft type to the exercise. The "Jet Training Squadron" from Austria returned to the Tiger Meet, this time with two Saab 105s. Now participating for the third time, and thereby earning their full membership, was Ala 15 from Zaragoza, Spain with four EF-18A/B+ Hornets. Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 313 Squadron was also present with three F-16s, including the J-016 of the RNLAF F-16 Solo Display to be flown by Captain Ralph "Sheik" Aarts on Sunday. Having worked hard for the NTM of last year, 338 Squadron from Ørland, Norway, was only present during the weekend. Although not a fighter squadron and not participating in any exercise missions, the Italian 21 Gruppo was present with one AB-212 ICO in a nice 90th anniversary scheme.
Sadly, not all tiger squadrons were present, or only present with observers and no aircraft. 192 Filo from Turkey and Esquadra 301 from Portugal, both operating the F-16, did not participate for unknown reasons. 335 Mira from Greece, always a welcome sight with their A-7E & TA-7H Corsair IIs, was only present with observers as the squadron is in the middle of converting to the F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon.
Every Tiger Meet is a guarantee for great and colourful paint schemes. And this year was no exception. The host of the Tiger Meet had two Super Etendards in a black/red tiger scheme. Their French Air Force colleagues of Escadron de Chasse 05.330 turned one of its Rafale fighters into a great eye-catcher, with an awesome tiger scheme covering the aircraft and one big tiger-eye on its tail. Escadron de Chasse 01.012 presented a nicely tiger coated Mirage 2000C featuring some French flag details. Spain’s Ala 15 presented a Mirage F1M with a skilfully detailed Ocean Tiger logo on the tail, displaying the tiger catching a shark. A new kid on the block was a Nord 262E of the French Flottille 28F, which painted their aircraft in the same black-and-white tiger scheme used on the Super Etendard of last year. All other squadrons had smaller tiger decals or paintwork, or the same great looking coats as seen during previous years with sometimes minor changes.
When you say “Tiger Meet”, you must think “Tiger Trophies”. Big winner of the "Silver Tiger" was the Swiss 11 Staffel, which had the best overall performance/appearance. The "Best Flying Unit" and the "Tiger Games Winner" went to the 31st Squadron from Belgium. The "Best Skit" trophy was awarded to the organizing 11 Flottille, while the "Best Looking Uniform" went to the French EC 01.012. And last but not least, the "Most Fancy Paint Scheme" trophy to the French Chasse 05.330.
This year I travelled to Bretange by car, and stayed in a small French hotel north of Landivisiau, just a few kilometres from the coast. Photography opportunities were present; however in my opinion the number of photographers and other visitors was too big on both the invite-only and public day. On Friday 27th, the 550 attending photographers were positioned next to the taxiway, which provided good photo opportunities. However, the distance to the runway was too big and most of the aircraft disappeared behind the high grass after landing. During the Open Door Day on Sunday, it was pretty obvious that the event attracted far too many people, as there were more than 5,000 people with only 400 or 500 meters of double fence available. The double fence made it also a challenge to produce descent photographs, especially when several people with stairs position themselves in front of you. In my opinion, a select group of photographers would be more effective, and reduced the workload of the organisation.
Nevertheless, the Sunday “Open Door” day had a great display programme, which involved the Cartouche Dore, solo displays of the Spanish Mirage F-1M, Czech Gripen and Hind, French Rafale, Swiss F-18 Duo and the excellent Dutch 313 Squadron’s F-16 Solo Display. The RNLAF F-16 and Swiss F-18s ended their display with some beautiful flares & chaff fireworks. The solo displays were followed by a massive fly-by of all aircraft involved ending the day.
All considered, this NATO Tiger Meet was put together with great care and dedication, especially taking into account the fact that the organisation did not have much time. Most importantly many great looking aircraft were gathered on the Bretagne tarmac. However in my humble opinion the goals were set a bit too high, concerning the allowed number of visitors on both days. Unfortunately the almost autumn-like weather conditions on both days did not pay tribute to the colourful and beautiful participants; the colours of the aircraft are just not looking as they would have looked with a little bit more sun.
Special thanks go to the 11F Public Relations Officers for their hospitality, efforts and generous assistance in making this feature possible. Hopefully we will see the 11 Flottille again at Kleine Brogel air base in 2009 for the next NATO Tiger Meet.
Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp ( view portfolio )